Posted on 09-01-2015
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

World news was understandably distracted by the events in France the last few days.  It overshadowed a surprise election upset in Sri Lanka last night.  Its been a few years since this blog discussed the authoritarian President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka who has spent the years following the end of the civil war suppressing dissent and trying to create a political dynasty.  In the triumphalism that followed the destruction of the LTTE, Rajapaksa spent almost no time in healing the divided nation and chose to ignore the reasons the war started in the first place.  The last few years Sri Lanka has been approaching pariah status, with Rajapaksa unwanted at international summits.

Yet even with his corrupt nepotistic despotism he remained very popular with the Sinhalese majority and called early elections in November expecting to win.  It seemed the plan would work until his former health minister entered the race, challenged the despot and won.  Rajapaksa has gracefully admitted defeat, ceding the stage to the new President Maithripala Sirisena.

Sirisena appears to have cannily capitalized on resentment among Sri Lanka’s minority groups and people turned off by the Rajapaksa clan taking control of all parts of government.  Yet, it is not clear whether he will bring any relief to Sri Lanka’s struggling minority groups.  Ethnic tension on the divided island could flare up allowing for a return of Rajapaka back to power, like Daniel Ortega did in Nicaragua.  Hopefully Sirisena bridges the gap that proved to be a chasm to far for Rajapaksa to leap – from politician to statesman.

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Posted on 08-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Previous posts in this blog (see link) had noted the challenges facing Sri Lanka in the aftermath of its total military victory against the LTTE.  Sri Lanka’s President and the Amy Chief tried to hog the credit for the victory and both giant egos faced off in the recent Presidential election, which President Rajapaksa won handily.  In what seems like a harbinger of the policy facing the defeated Tamils, President Rajapaksa seems unwilling to rest on the laurels of victory at the ballot box.  He has now proceeded to arrest General Fonseka, confirming the fears of the opposition.  See link.   Generals who grow too big for their boots while in uniform are a concern for any democracy.  But arresting the loser of an election a week later is an authoritarian move that does not bode well for Sri Lankan democracy.

Many Tamils are still stuck in refugee camps.  The minority areas had ironically voted for General Fonseka feeling he was more likely to seek a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic divide.  With the firm backing of Sinhalese nationalists President Rajapaksa may not see the need for compromise or to implement the Sri Lankan constitution’s mandate to devolve power to the provinces.  See link.  It is hard to see how a state with two distinct ethnicities at loggerheads who are also conveniently segregated can survive without such a compromise.  The failure to compromise (and the attempt to deny citizenship to the Tamil minority) helped spark the civil war in the first place.

The LTTE’s assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 cost it Indian sympathy.  But the LTTE is now gone and sympathy for Sri Lanka’s Tamils runs deep in the next door Indian state of Tamil Nadu.  Any recurrence of civil war would put domestic pressure on India to intervene to protect the Tamils ( a situation neither New Delhi or Colombo want to arise).  Sri Lanka could use a dose of enlightened leadership that uses the period of war exhaustion to forge a lasting settlement.  I am not sure that President Rajapaksa’s thin-skinned government is up to the challenge.

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Posted on 11-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

I previously posted on the United States summoning Sri Lanka’s green-card holding army chief for a briefing.  The BBC has an article out about how Sri Lanka’s opposition parties are trying to recruit the general to run for President.  A political campaign between the General and the President who destroyed the LTTE could turn into an exercise in chest thumping nationalism that would do little to solve Sri Lanka’s festering minority problem and could keep its Tamils in their internment camps even longer.

UPDATE: With the general resigning early it looks like a political campaign is in the offing.

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Time has an article up on the recent United States summons to the Sri Lankan army chief who is in the country visiting his daughters.  A lot of cloak and dagger stuff surrounding the meeting.  Interesting to learn that the general is a United States permanent resident, giving the United States some legal leverage over him.  As noted earlier, Sri Lanka needs to get its act together on its impending human catastrophe.  While there may be some defense for military actions to eliminate the LTTE, with each passing day the internment camps are harder to defend.

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Posted on 22-10-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Few people shed tears for Velupillai Prabhakaran when the LTTE chief was killed this past May as Sri Lanka brought its 25 year civil war to a victorious close.  However, in the flush of victory the Sri Lankan government used security concerns to put over 200,000 Tamil civilians in internment camps.  Five months later the humanitarian catastrophe shows no signs of drawing to a close.

It was discrimination against the Tamil minority culminating in the notorious Black July pogrom in 1983 triggered the civil war.  With the Tamil minority able to draw the support from their ethnic kin in the neighboring Indian state of Tamil Nadu (it was these political pressures that prompted India to arm the Tamil groups after Black July) and the vocal Tamil diaspora, Sri Lanka cannot just wish away the problem.  Lingering Indian resentment against the LTTE (particularly in the ruling Congress party for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991) muted India’s response to the final push by the Sri Lankan army this summer.  But the misery of the Tamils in their internment camps will eventually force India to join the vociferous protests currently being spearheaded by the European Union.  Sri Lanka will be then forced into reliance on support from China and the company of dubious partners like Pakistan, Iran and Venezuela.  While jingoism may dictate such a course, in the long run governing a state with an embittered minority able to draw on foreign support is not a workable strategy.  Sri Lanka should not squander the opportunity to reset its relations with its Tamil minority that the destruction of the LTTE provided.

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